During the Great Depression, the WPA (Works Progress Administration) assisted municipalities throughout New Hampshire by providing paid work for many unemployed persons. The WPA supplied labor for everything from sidewalk repair to the construction of bridges and public buildings.
The WPA also supported cultural initiatives through its Federal Art Project, Federal Music Project, Federal Theatre Project, Federal Writers’ Project, and Historical Records Survey.
The Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) existed from 1935 to 1943. During this time period the program employed thousands of out-of-work writers, editors, librarians, and clerks—and published hundreds of books, pamphlets, and other materials. Its most famous product was the American Guide Series, which included a travel guide for each of the 48 states, the District of Columbia, the Alaska Territory, Puerto Rico, and several large cities.
These illustrated books included historical, geographical, transportation, and climate information and recommendations regarding the availability of hotels and other tourist accommodations. Each book project required a local co-sponsor. For New Hampshire this was Republican Gov. Francis P. Murphy (in office 1937-1941), who served in this role on behalf of his state. This was an exciting project for all involved, as it would be the first comprehensive New Hampshire tour book published since 1902.
The pre-publication process took several months and involved dozens of contributors. The team was made up of writers and researchers working in the field and employees from state agencies, municipal governments, the White Mountain National Forest, Dartmouth College, and the University of New Hampshire. Local historians also provided valuable input. The raw data and draft text was assembled and professionally edited under the supervision of FWP Director Charles Ernest White.
“New Hampshire — A Guide to the Granite State” was published in 1938. At a hefty 559 pages it presents a wide-ranging, well-written, and entertaining overview of the state, both of its past and as it existed in 1937-1938. The book includes 91 original black and white photographs, plus numerous maps and line drawings. Inserted in a pocket on the inside of the book’s back cover is a handsome fold-out state road map, printed in color.
Gov. Murphy emphasized the book’s tone and focus in his foreword: “New Hampshire, land of scenic splendor and a thousand and one endearing charms, has long been a region of great attractiveness to travel-minded people both in this country and abroad.” He noted that the book would serve as a “concise, official guide to its recreational facilities and its diverse cultural attractions.”
The guide promotes New Hampshire’s major landmarks, including the White Mountains, the seacoast, and Lake Winnipesaukee, and it touts the outdoor recreational activities that abound in the state—skiing, fishing, hunting, hiking, camping, golf, boating, etc. It also encourages visitors to explore “points of interest” off the beaten trail, such as noteworthy architecture (everything from Colonial-era meeting-houses to 19th century mill buildings); picturesque town commons; and quaint covered bridges. The book also proudly describes the state’s cultural resources, including fairs and festivals; art museums; theaters; and music events.
The guide presents detailed plans for 17 road trips (several with creative options) that involve several miles of travel, as well for short tours within the centers of 15 communities. Introductory essays about each of the 15 featured towns and cities, and the place descriptions listed in the road trip itineraries, stress the distinct nature of each location.
For example, the book describes Berlin like this: “Here are made many of the products that the world uses: newsprint, napkins, towels, bags, and artificial leather, and enough paper each year to make a road 15-feet wide that would run 19 times around the world.” The editor was quick to point out that “The intellectual development of the city has not been stunted by its industry,” and that Berlin had a “fine school system,” a weekly newspaper, choral societies, and orchestras.
“A Guide to the Granite State” was well-received, and proved to be of great interest not only to visitors from out-of-state but also to New Hampshire’s own citizens. By paying $2.50 they could buy a keepsake hardcover book that would enable them to better appreciate their own state and what it had to offer. The book remains just as enjoyable to read today.
Next week: Federal Writers’ Project interviews connect us to New Hampshire’s past.